Mental illness in the Black community is like that dirty little secret that no one wants to acknowledge. As a culture, our elders believe that family business should stay in the home and never discussed outside with anyone. It’s those core beliefs around mental health that have destroyed hundreds of lives over the decades, because the very same individuals that foster this ideology are the exact same ones who pushed it down out of shame, ignorance or pride at their own peril or their loved ones.
June and Jennifer Gibbons are twins from the only Black family in a small town in Wales in the 1970s and ’80s. After being bullied, spat upon and emotionally tortured within the community, the pair turn inward and reject communication with everyone but each other. After retreat into their own fantasy world of inspiration and adolescent desires and a spree of vandalism, the girls are sentenced to Broadmoor, an infamous psychiatric hospital, where they face the choice to separate and survive or die together.
To say this film is disturbing would be mild understatement. They were effectively abandoned by the school and care systems but wrote intensely imaginative poems and stories, with June even self-publishing a novel, “The Pepsi Cola Murderer.” It gained them a reputation as authentic outsider artists when, in 1981, their case was taken by investigative journalist and mental health campaigner Marjorie Wallace. Their story has had a number of stage and screen treatments, and now screenwriter Andrea Seigel has adapted Wallace’s book and Polish film-maker Agnieszka Smoczyńska directs.
Having said that, it needs to embraced if for nothing else, to shed a glaring spotlight on the mistreatment and misdiagnosed of women of color who are mentally ill. Apparently, no matter what country it is, we are just not given the same consideration or care as white people….sane or insane. The performances from Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrence are simply stupendous as they both have faces which easily convey the pain, anguish, frustration and fear these girls experience with ease and conviction. They soar leaps and bounds with little to no effort embracing the lispy language of the twins, which is immensely difficult with this sort of material.
Aside from their performances and the un-settling stop motion animation laden throughout the film, the pacing of the film drags and could stand to be tightened up a bit here and there. And the final act, begins to feel less about the sisters and more about Marjorie Wallace’s (Jodhi May) efforts to help them by writing up their story in the Sunday Times, turning the film into yet another white-savior story. At the end of the day, with The Silent Twins we learn siblings are genetically bound, but none tighter than twins who have a love that can strangle you from the inside out and hold you back if you let it.
Produced by Kindred Spirit and Focus Features, The Silent Twins hits theaters on September 16th.